Create authority and build trust through online communities with this list of the best online community platforms.
If you have an online business, chances are your customers are spread far and wide – across different cities, countries, and even continents.
In the past, the most popular way to bring customers together was to throw social events, including conferences, gatherings and more. But today, online communities are the most effective way to build strong bonds with your customers and prospective clients.
Brands that can tap into their online audience and build genuine connections with their followers can gain loyal customers, repeat sales, and valuable brand advocates.
The best part? You can monetize your community too with subscriptions, digital products, exclusive content, and more.
Here are the best online community platforms in 2023 – to help engage your customers, monetize your following, and level up your business.
- What are online community platforms?
- How to choose the best online community platform for you
- Top 17 best online community platforms in 2023
An online community platform is a type of specialized software that acts as a virtual space for people with shared interests to meet, connect, and interact.
For example – Reddit is the largest platform for online communities worldwide and one of the most visited websites in the world. There are more than 100,000 active subreddits (aka communities) on the platform and millions of daily users and visitors.
Reddit unites users around their common interests. Any user can start a new subreddit community and users can be part of more than one community at the same time.
Online community platforms can include:
- Social media groups
- Membership sites
- Online chat rooms
- Creator platforms
For businesses, online community platforms also offer the chance to connect to their target audience and create an exclusive online space for sharing products, exclusive offers, and more.
Online community platforms can be separated into 2 broad categories: public social networks and private community platforms.
Public social networks include top social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, as well as discussion-based websites like Reddit. They’re typically free to use and have millions of active users.
Private community platforms include membership sites and creator platforms like Thinkific and Kajabi. They are generally subscription-based platforms where businesses can create private community spaces for their customers, while also selling other digital products.
Both types of online community platforms have their advantages and disadvantages.
Public social networks can help you to:
- Reach a wider audience: Thanks to the huge number of active users, it’s easier for your content to be seen by more people as they’re already spending time on the platform, so you can reach a wider audience.
- Reduce digital friction: As many people in your audience will already have an account on big platforms like Facebook and Reddit, it’s simpler for them to sign-up to your community and start engaging with your content immediately.
- Generate new leads: You can use public community platforms to generate new leads for your business – by directing people to sign-up for your mailing list or visit your website.
But the downsides of public social networks is that you typically have less control over your community. For example, if Facebook decides to shut down your group, there’s nothing you can do about it. This can be stressful if you’re trying to build a business.
For brands, private community platforms come with a range of benefits, including:
- Increased control: When you have a private online community like a membership site, you have total control over your community space – meaning you don’t have to worry about algorithms, external ads, or other competition for your audience’s attention.
- Dedicated community management tools: Online community platforms offer better tools for managing and maintaining your community – including bulk actions, built-in marketing features, lead funnels, and more.
- Revenue opportunities: Take your community private and open up new revenue streams for your business – including subscription tiers, gated content, premium content offers, and more.
- Enhanced security: Private online community platforms offer you and your members more security than traditional social media thanks to advanced data security measures.
- Better data tracking: Get in-depth insights into the health of your community with real-time tracking – so you can make data-driven decisions about your business with all the facts.
Want to know more? Check out our full guide on How to Build an Online Community for your brand.
There are a wide range of online community platforms on the market right now – but how do you know which one is right for your business?
If choosing an online community platform feels daunting, here are 6 steps to help:
- Decide what type of community you want: Before choosing an online community platform, get clear on the type of online community you’re looking to build – including the structure and approach.
- Determine your goals: The best community platform for you will depend on your goals – why do you want to build an online community? What do you want to achieve? What are your KPIs?
- Look at key features: Write a list of the must-have features you need from your community platform, like livestreaming, 1:1 chat functions, and more.
- Be realistic about size: The size of your community will make a big impact on the type of community platform that’s best for you – including pricing and limits. Create an estimate for your community size before choosing a platform.
- Prioritize scalable solutions: Your business is likely to grow – so any community platform also needs to be scalable to match your changing needs.
- Check your budget: Of course, budget also has a role to play in choosing the right community platform. Look at the fine print for adding extra admins and community members, and hidden transaction fees.
No online community platform is perfect for everyone. Every option is going to excel at some features (e.g. real-time chat) and be worse at others (e.g. customization).
The bottom line is that an online community platform should be a safe and uplifting space that gives you the control to create a group where your members will feel connected and engaged.
Ready to find the platform for you? Check out our pick of the top 17 best online community platforms.
Thinkific is a powerful and intuitive platform for Creator Educators that’s designed to make the process of creating, hosting and monetizing your online community simple. It’s fully customizable and doesn’t require any coding or tech expertise – simply start with a template and tailor it to your needs.
This online community platform lets you create named, branded communities that you can sell as an independent product or as part of a subscription. And to market your community, design dedicated landing pages to convert visitors into customers.
Looking for additional features? The Thinkific app store has hundreds of product integrations to enhance the platform and customize it to your needs.
- Build branded communities
- Create paid subscription tiers
- White-label customization
- Zero coding required
- Wide range of product integrations
- Get started today with a free plan
- Paid plans start at just $36 a month
Launch your online learning product for free
Use Thinkific to create, market, and sell online courses, communities, and memberships — all from a single platform.
Tribe’s no-code solution lets you build and customize the ideal community for your audience. Personalize everything from the layout to your brand colors and add a custom domain too.
With Tribe, your community members can join groups, write posts and participate in online discussions. Every user has their own activity feed for community updates and they can use their existing social media logins to sign in to the platform for minimal digital friction.
User-generated content on Tribe is automatically SEO-friendly and optimized for social sharing if made public – so you can use community content to boost your business too. There are also moderation tools to help keep all discussions on topic and your community members safe.
- No-code editor
- Easy login
- Customizable branding
- Member roles for clear permissions
- Powerful analytics
- Paid plans range from $59 to $599 a month, rate varies depending on the number of members
PeerBoard is a rich community platform that offers businesses the opportunity to build truly engaging discussion spaces for learners. The platform is simple to use, easy to integrate, and offers beautiful posts, member segmentation, notifications, commenting and insight tools to help creators get the most out of their communities.
- Integrates natively with Thinkific
- Automatically import course spaces and students
- Segment audience
- White-label customization
- Display posts and discussion threads inside your course-player
- Peerboard offers a free plan
- Paid plans start at $29 per month to $23 per month annually
This community platform makes it easy to invite your community members to discuss anything you have to offer, from online courses to ebooks. Users can post messages and chat with each other on the platform, helping to build closer bonds in your community.
New posts are easy to create with an intuitive CMS and can include images, videos, audio, surveys and more. Users also have the option to engage with your content via a community app.
- In-built CMS
- Unlimited storage
- Direct messages between members
- Create multimedia posts
- Add unlimited admins and members
- From $33 to $99 a month, depending on the features you’re looking for
Slack isn’t just a work chat – it’s also an easy way to organize a community online. The free plan allows you to add unlimited community members to the platform but caps visible messages to 10,000 (they can be viewed by subscribing to a paid plan). Paid plans allow for more storage, app integrations and group calls.
On Slack, direct messages are the name of the game and you can create channels to keep various topics neatly organized. Recently, Slack has added audio and video call features too.
Slack is a great choice for anyone looking to keep the conversation going, but there are limited options to customize the platform to your brand.
- Unlimited members
- Direct messaging
- Neat channel organization
- Widely used
- Free to start
- Slack offers a limited free plan
- Paid options starting at $6.67 a month per user
Anyone who’s part of a gaming community has probably heard of Discord – an instant messaging platform with support for voice calls, video calls and chats.
Discord is free to use – every user can choose individually whether to upgrade their account to a pro user, unlocking extra features. Like Slack, Discord is a good option for creating an online community based on instant and spontaneous chatting. The same user can belong to multiple communities, so it’s easy to create a new online community if your target audience is already using Discord.
- Free to use
- Simple interface
- Chat focussed
- Set up separate channels
- Messages and voice calls available
- Free to use for everyone
When it comes to open-source community platforms, Discourse is taking the lead. The top benefit of this community platform is that you can tweak the codebase however you need to build the community features you want.
At the same time, Discourse is a pretty powerful platform right out of the box. Bring together your community and organize it into separate categories and threads, assign moderators, and more. Users can post, message each other, and share content, all within the platform.
Another helpful power feature Discourse offers is automatic filtering for spammers and trolls to make community moderation easy – so you can have more peace of mind.
- Open-source code and flexible API
- Social media login
- Assign multiple moderators
- Direct messaging tools
- Powerful automatic moderation
- Self-host Discourse for free
- You can also try their 14-day free trial for managed hosting
- Managed hosting ranges from $50 to $300 a month
Vanilla Forums is an online community platform that lets companies connect their customers with each other. This forum software is easy to customize however you need through HTML and CSS. Users can mention each other, leave comments, ask questions, send private messages, create polls and more.
As a business, you can run multiple sub-communities on Vanilla Forums and assign community admins for moderation. Each forum can be customized for a specific goal, whether that’s as a knowledge base or a space for Q&As or anything in between.
- Forum platform
- Customization through HTML and CSS
- Add sub-communities
- Member mentions
- Leave comments, ask questions, and create polls
- Prices start at $600 but exact quotes are given by the sales team
Billed as an all-in-one community for creators and brands, this platform’s minimalist approach doesn’t take away from its powerful set of features. Circle makes it easy to create your own branded community with its own custom domain name.
Engage your online community with live Q&As, weekly office hours, direct messaging, group coaching, and exclusive masterclasses. There’s also a mobile app to make sure your community can stay connected on-the-go. And when it comes to monetizing your business, Circle offers you a range of options – including memberships, recurring subscriptions, and one-time access payments.
Circle has affordable pricing plans for small businesses and a free trial to see if it’s the right fit for your needs.
- Advanced analytics
- Multiple revenue options
- Mobile app
- Live streaming and event spaces
- Easy product integrations
- 14-day free trial
- Paid plans range from $39 to $360 a month annually, depending on members, admins and storage required
Kajabi is a well-rounded online community platform to help you grow your business with creative custom solutions. Take advantage of the built-in CRM, collect payments with Stripe and Paypal integrations, and use analytics to make data-driven decisions about your business.
Kajabi provides the tools you need to create all kinds of content – and show the world what you do best. Sell online courses, coaching programs, podcasts, memberships, and more, all while building your online community.
- Customizable to your own brand
- Create discussion posts with comment feeds
- Set up fully-integrated website
- Automated marketing campaigns
- Extensive analytics
- Kajabi offers flexible pricing plans, ranging from $149 to $399 monthly
Build a custom membership platform with MemberDev and grow your online community from the ground up. MemberDev aims to take the stress out of creating a membership website – by doing it for you. Get your own community space that’s tailored specifically to your business and your audience, including a customized user experience to maximize the impact of your product offering.
A major selling point for MemberDev is that they offer a huge amount of customization. They also include simple sales funnels and email marketing integrations to help you promote your community online.
- Customer membership platform created specifically for your needs
- Offer flexible subscriptions to members
- Community forums and groups
- Members-only live events
- Member dashboards and profiles
- MemberDev’s pricing is based on individual cases.
Specializing in video content, Uscreen has a lot to offer when building your online community. Uscreen helps creators create a unique and dynamic community space with a Netflix-style interface that makes it easy for members to discover new content and engage with your brand.
Showcase your video content and forge closer bonds with your audience through exclusive content drops, livestreaming, and a private membership space. You can also personalize your own Uscreen website and app to put your community front and center in your audience’s lives – with custom calendar reminders to keep members in the loop about what’s coming next.
- Tailored to video
- Host live streaming events
- Share photos and text to a community feed
- Create a custom branded app
- Add calendar reminders for new content
- Monthly plans range from $99 to $199 a month
Spark conversations around your work with Podia. This all-in-one community building tool lets you build free and paid communities, with all the features you need to navigate through the process of creating and managing an online community.. They make the whole process clear, easy and straightforward – including giving you the chance to create a website, webinars, coaching packages, and optional email marketing add-ons to promote your content.
- Create paid or free communities
- No code builder
- Email marketing add-on
- Sales funnel for digital products
- Multimedia conversations
- Podia offers a free plan
- Monthly plans range from $39 to $199 per month
HumHub is a free social network software and framework built to give you the tools you need to make online communication and collaboration easy. HumHub is completely open-source – you can create your own customized social network, social intranet, or huge social enterprise application that fits your needs. It’s also free to use.
- Fully customizable
- Extend HumHub using third party tools
- Maintain full control of your data
- Create private or enterprise social networks
- HumHub is a free platform
- The professional edition has a range of different monthly price points, depending on the number of users
Most of your community – regardless of demographics – probably have a Facebook profile already. This makes Facebook Groups an easy choice when thinking about a new online community platform. Users can simply log-in to their Facebook and join your group – it’s that simple.
Facebook Groups are completely free to use – but the downside is that most members won’t see your posts in their activity feed, so they’ll need to visit the group directly to engage with your content. That means the member engagement in Facebook Groups is generally low – and it’s hard to monetize your community using Facebook alone.
In recent years, Facebook has also faced many challenges ranging from usability, data privacy issues, and ownership – so while it can be really useful to get your community started, it’s best to use it in tandem with another online community platform that gives you more control and security.
- Easy to start
- Simple to moderate
- Users don’t need to create separate profiles
- Post chat discussions, images, and video
- Direct messaging available
- Free to use for everyone
Reddit is the world’s largest online community platform – and a new community can be started by anyone, anytime. Create your own subreddit to attract more members to your community faster – but beware of getting lost in the crowd.
You can let your Reddit community create posts, vote on them and even elect moderators. Reddit is a great platform to spark discussions and open your brand up to a wider audience. It’s also completely free to use.
- Hundreds of millions of people already on the platform
- Easy management
- Minimum setup required
- Create subreddits around your brand
- Generate discussions and chats
- Free to use for everyone
Designed for individual creators and established businesses alike, Disciple lets you manage your content and your community from your mobile or desktop. With Disciple, you can use your favorite tools to enhance your online community using their open API to sync with apps such as Google Suite, Mailchimp, YouTube and more – no coding required. Kick start community conversations with groups, polls, and comments, and connect with your members in real time via livesteams and direct messaging options.
- Store and share your content from one place
- Multiple community layout options
- Unlimited sub groups and content feeds
- In-depth insights and analytics
- Open API
- Choose from annual or 6-monthly plans, starting from $46 to $999 per month.
Ready to build your online community?
Building a community takes patience – but the potential benefits are worth the extra effort. Start by finding the best online community platform for your needs, carve out a space for your brand, customize it to your audience, and then get busy creating engaging and exciting content.
Ready to launch your online community with confidence? Try Thinkific for free today
This blog was originally published in December 2022 but has since been updated in August 2023 to include the most relevant information.